An Australian man has pleaded guilty to abducting a 4-year-old girl, who was missing for 18 days before she was rescued.
Terence Darrell Kelly, 36, admitted to the abduction of young Cleo Smith on Monday during a virtual appearance in court in Carnarvon, Australia, the Associated Press reports. He pleaded guilty to a charge of forcibly taking a child aged under 16.
Kelly had kidnapped the child in the middle of the night from her family’s tent while they were camping the remote Blowholes Campsite in Macleod back in October, according to the Western Australia Police Force. She was recovered from Kelly’s Carnarvon locked residence, just streets away from her family's home, 18 days later, investigators said in a statement.
Kelly reportedly had no connection to the family. He now faces up to 20 years in prison. He is due back in court on March 20. While he pleaded guilty to that serious charge, Kelly has not entered a plea to other charges he faces, including assaulting a public officer, according to the Associated Press. Those charges have been moved to a later date.
The guilty plea is reportedly a surprise, as officials were gearing up for a lengthy trial, the BBC reports. Kelly has been jailed since Nov. 5, two days after Smith was rescued from his home.
More details about the abruption are expected to be released now that Kelly has admitted guilt. He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison in Perth, CNN reports.
Photo: Western Australia Police Force
Smith's disappearance sparked a massive search that led to the creation of task force consisting of about 100 officers. A tip led them to Kelly.
"One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her 'What's your name?' She said, 'My name is Cleo,'" Western Australia Police Force Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement last year. She was reunited with her family shortly after.